By any standards, this was a terrific week for the affiliates, who collectively went 18-10. The Clippers followed last week's 6-for-6 with five more wins in seven games, and both the Hillcats and Captains also took five from seven. The RubberDucks were the only team with a losing record (3-4).
Current team records (as of Sunday night):
Columbus Clippers: 22-15 (individual 2015 stats)
Akron RubberDucks: 16-21 (individual 2015 stats)
Lynchburg Hillcats: 15-23 (individual 2015 stats)
Lake County: 20-17 (individual 2015 stats)
Angling for position players
The Clippers' offense continues to fire on all cylinders, spearheaded by lead-off hitter Francisco Lindor who (as of Sunday night) was on a 10-game hitting streak: (.378 AVG; .429 OBP). The countdown to Cleveland is well and truly gathering momentum.
Jerry Sands has been supplying most of the power lately, hitting four homers in 12 games since his return from the Indians.
Third baseman Giovanny Urshela is still on the DL with the back injury that has plagued him since Spring Training. He has only managed eight games all season and last played on May 5, but AAA manager Chris Tremie said last night that he expects Urshela to be back on Thursday. Source.
The RubberDucks continue to suffer from severe lack of power-hitting in the line-up (only two players have hit more than one homer: Erik Gonzalez with three and Todd Hankins with two).
The offensive star of the team so far is probably the 24yo Hankins, who has successfully juggled the different demands of CF (as injury cover for Tyler Naquin) and 2B while amassing an excellent line of .289/.359/.436. Hankins was left exposed in last year's Rule 5 draft, but at this rate he'll definitely need to be protected this coming November.
Naquin has hit really well since he returned from injury last Thursday, going 7-for-19 with two doubles. He is now hitting .301/.409/.384 after 17 games, but has missed over half of the games to date. Naquin is a candidate for a September call-up if he can stay healthy over the next few months.
Third baseman Yandy Diaz stretched his run of reaching base safely to 26 games (going all the way back to April 20th) but he has shown next to no power, with just three doubles all season.
At the start of the season, all eyes were on the foursome of Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer, Nellie Rodriguez and Mike Papi. However, their most consistent offensive force has actually been the 4th OF, Luigi Rodriguez, who leads the team with a .881 OPS. Once a highly-rated prospect, Rodriguez has been stuck at A+ for nearly two years, but he is still only 22 and seems to be experiencing a power surge this year. It's not clear what the future holds for Rodriguez, as the farm's OF is crowded to say the least (he has actually been DH in 22 of his 34 games), but ability-wise he seems ready to make the jump to AA now.
Zimmer still leads the farm in homers (6) and stolen bases (17), but he hasn't been as effective lately as the strikeouts have racked up in alarming fashion, 13 in the last eight games alone. The CF farm triumviate of Zimmer, Frazier and James Ramsey have each struck out 40 times already.
After a slow start to the season, Joe Sever has been on fire lately. He has now hit in 10 straight games, going 15-38 with three homers, following a 13-64 (one HR) start in his first 20 games.
With back-up catcher Alex Monsalve on the DL, Juan De La Cruz (a 21yo product of the Tribe’s Dominican farm system) has been getting a look and has so far gone 2-7 with a walk in two appearances.
Lake County (A)
Coming back from an oblique injury, Bobby Bradley has been used sparingly by the Captains, who have rested him in three of the nine games since his reappearance (and again last night). However, he is hitting a highly encouraging 7-21 with three homers and three walks in those six games.
Third baseman Taylor Murphy continues to put up solid numbers for the Captains, going 7-25 with two homers and two walks last week, although he has committed a number of fielding errors as he tries to adapt to the hot corner.
Yan Gomes began his rehab with two games at Lake County over the weekend, going 2-4 with a walk and getting in a few innings catching TJ House.
State of the rotation
The Columbus rotation churn continues: first Danny Salazar was promoted, then Bruce Chen and now Shaun Marcum is getting a long-awaited start against the White Sox on Wednesday (the same day that TJ House will be continuing his rehab by joining the Clippers). Marcum has pitched to a 1.36 ERA in five starts for the Clippers, and his MLB pedigree always suggested that he would probably be "next man up" once Chen faltered.
Off-season MiLB signing Michael Roth is quietly having an exceptional season for the Clippers. The soft-tossing lefty went at least 7.2 IP for the third game in a row on Sunday, and has now conceded just three runs in those games, all coming on two homers. With the Tribe's No.5 rotation spot very much up for grabs, Roth is putting himself in the frame for an opportunity if Marcum or House can't get the job done.
Swingman Toru Murata was drafted into the Columbus rotation when Danny Salazar was promoted, and he too has been terrific lately, going 7 IP in each of his last two starts while giving up just eight hits and one run on a solo homer.
The former Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin made his farm debut last week, but gave up a three-run homer and lasted only 4.2 IP. At least he threw 91 pitches (58 strikes), so he proved that he is fully stretched out and can hopefully build from this.
Thirty-seven games into the season, the RubberDucks have still used only five starting pitchers. Cody Anderson has been the pick of the bunch (1.75 ERA; 1.08 WHIP), while Shawn Morimando leads the entire farm with 40 strikeouts, Ryan Merritt has been eating innings (45 in seven games) and Mike Clevinger has been far better than one could have hoped. Even Will Roberts, who had been stuggling, had two good starts last week, giving up just two runs in a combined 11 IP.
With Mike Rayl on the DL, the Lynchburg rotation was reinforced last week with the promotion of Dace Kime. Kime had been performing well for the Captains and, after struggling in his first start for the Hillcats, he put in a fine effort in his second game on Sunday.
Adam Plutko is still the mainstay of the rotation — he has been so good that it was actually something of a "disappointment" that he conceded two runs for only the second time in last week's start.
The two 21yos prospects, Mitch Brown and Luis Lugo, have been up and down so far this season, but they both had "up" outings last time out.
Lake County (A)
With Dace Kime's promotion to the Hillcats, it looks like Thomas Pannone will probably be given another chance to start. Pannone leads the farm with a superb 12.1 K/9 rate, and has struck out nine on no less than three of his seven outings to date. His overall numbers took a huge hit when he conceded four runs on three hits and five walks in a single relief inning back on April 23, but otherwise he has pitched really well.
Top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield turned in another fine performance last week. He added seven more strikeouts and now has 38 on the year with a 10.9 K/9 rate.
TJ House pitched three innings in a rehab start for the Captains last Friday.
The backend of the Clippers bullpen has been less than solid recently. Shawn Armstrong has had a real problem with walks lately (eight in 6.1 IP since the start of May), while Austin Adams blew a two-run save on Tuesday and Kyle Crockett followed suit on Saturday. On the plus side, Bryan Price returned from the DL to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings, while the very promising Giovanni Soto possesses a 1.08 ERA/0.90 WHIP after 16.2 IP.
Austin Adams was actually promoted (again!) to the MLB team last Thursday, with Anthony Swarzak going the other way after accepting an assignment to the Clippers. Adams was then sent back down yesterday when Mike Aviles was activated from the restricted list.
Closer Jeff Johnson (0.64 ERA; 0.86 WHIP in 14 IP), set-up man Enosil Tejeda (1.32 ERA; 1.02 WHIP in 13.2 IP split between AAA and AA) and long reliever Josh Martin (0.72 ERA; 0.72 WHIP on 25 IP) continue to lead the way for the exceptional Ducks bullpen.
Coming back from the DL to make his 2015 debut, Joe Colon replaced Benny Suarez on the roster to make his first relief appearance since 2011. It's not clear yet if/when Colon will return to the already crowded Akron rotation.
The Hillcats' bullpen has been rather hit and miss. Justin Brantley has done a solid job in middle relief (2.11 ERA; 0.94 WHIP in 21.1 IP), but the rest of the opening day bullpen hasn't been impressive. Fortunately, reinforcements arrived a couple of weeks ago in the form of Antonio Romero (6.2 IP so far) and Mason Radeke (4.0 IP), neither of whom has conceded a run yet — in fact, they have only allowed one hit each.
Lake County (A)
Another week, another two innings without conceding an earned run for J.P. Feyereisen, who is now up to 30 IP since turning pro after the 2014 draft. Feyereisen actually had a really close shave on Saturday, allowing two base-runners (both singles) for the first time this year, before storming back to retire three in a row. (For more details on Feyereisen's remarkable pro career, check out this article by Matt Lyons.) Although he is somewhat in Feyereien's shadow, Cameron Hill (0.60 ERA; 0.60 WHIP with 17 SO in 15 IP) has also been outstanding.
Nick Pasquale continued his 2015 odyssey around the farm system, returning to Lake County to make room for Dace Kime at Lynchburg. Pasquale has struggled whenever he goes to the Hillcats, but at the Captains he has now pitched 10 scoreless innings.
Minor league players of the week (as voted by LGT)
Week 1 (Apr 9-19): Bradley Zimmer (72% of the vote)
Week 2 (Apr 20-26): Dace Kime (33%)
Week 3 (Apr 27-May 3): Tyler Naquin (76%)
Week 4 (May 4-10): Shaun Marcum (45%)